Home » Hard-Knock Lives: 1991 BMW 318i Convertible vs 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula

Hard-Knock Lives: 1991 BMW 318i Convertible vs 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula

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When you’re looking at inexpensive cars for sale, and you come across something that seems too cheap, you can guess before clicking on the ad that it either a) is a scam, or b) has been mightily abused. There is absolutely no point in us ever looking at the former, but the latter is right up our alley. Today’s cars definitely fit that description. Before we get to them, though, let’s look at the results of our grandpa sedans from yesterday:

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Well, color me surprised! I fully expected the Northstar to scare more of you away. Apparently the only thing scarier than a Northstar is rust.

Some cars, when you see their listings, you just feel sorry for them. They’ve obviously led hard lives, full of abuse and indifference, and it’s one thing if the car in question is a Subaru Outback or something that no one really cares that much about. But if it’s an uncommon mid-engined sports car, or a highly-sought-after European compact, you want to reach out to them. You hear Sarah McLachlan singing quietly in the background, and your heartstrings get a good solid tug. Every day, good cars get abused by bad owners. Won’t you help them?

1991 BMW 318i convertible – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter inline 4, 5 speed manual, RWD

Location: Gladstone, OR

Odometer reading: 145,000 miles

Runs/drives? Kinda-sorta starts sometimes, but that’s it

I don’t know if the chassis code “E30” is still spoken in hushed tones of reverence or not, but for a while, everybody wanted one of these. I imagine that’s why someone ias asking two grand for a beat-to-shit convertible that doesn’t run. Don’t get me wrong; they’re great cars to drive, but I can’t get past the fact that $2000 used to buy a decent two-door 325es that ran like a top.

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Speaking of tops, this car needs one. But from all appearances that’s the least of your worries here. The huge dent behind the door can probably be left alone, though it might prevent that quarter window from rolling down. And is that really packing tape holding the corner of the rear bumper together?

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But even a scruffy, unsightly E30 convertible could be fun to drive… if you could drive it. Unfortunately, the little M40 four-cylinder under the hood of this one does not run. It sounds like the seller bought it in a non-running state and tried unsuccessfully to revive it. It will start, sometimes, and sputter out some semblance of an idle once in a while, which is encouraging. Maybe someone with a bit more mechanical acumen would have more success.

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If it were either banged-up or non-running, I could see it, but as it stands, I personally don’t see spending $2,000 on this car. But I’m not as BMW-crazy as some.

1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula – $1,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liter V6, 5 speed manual, RWD

Location: Vancouver, WA

Odometer reading: 90,000 miles

Runs/drives? More or less, yeah

In this case, I feel sorry not only for the car, but for the seller. It sounds like they bought this car for someone to help them out, and that someone trashed it, got it impounded, and left it behind. The seller got it out of impound, but it’s still trashed, and half-disassembled. It does, however, run and drive, albeit without an exhaust.

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But if you’re after a Fiero, this is one of the ones you want. It’s a final-year Formula, with the V6, the good suspension, and a five-speed manual. It did not originally come with air conditioning, but the seller started to add it in, and got this far:

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Sort of a minimalist vibe in this one. The seller says they have all the pieces, but you’ll have to put everything back together, whether you finish the AC install or not. The car also has no exhaust from the catalytic converter back, and the 3rd gear synchro is on the way out. Apparently Junior was a bit aggressive with it.

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The good news is that it has a healthy 2.8 liter V6 with only 90,000 miles on it, a new clutch, and comes with at least some of the parts to fix it up. And when you do get it all back together, you’ll have a fun Fiero in the right spec.

Obviously neither of these cars is ready for prime-time, but they both could be fun cars with some work. It’s up to you which one you want to rescue.



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50 Responses

  1. I can’t believe no one pointed out(and if they did I opologise) the engine in the BMW isn’t an m40. It’s an m42. That’s a difference of nearly 40hp. The m40 is a sohc making barely 100hp. The m42 has 138hp . I realize neither is what anyone would call huge numbers, but it’s the same hp difference between the 2.5 4cyl and the 2.8 6cyl in the fiero.
    All that being said, I’d have to pick the fiero.

  2. I’m a BMW guy. Unlike most people who lust after an E30 I have spent plenty of time behind the wheel of one and know how fun they are to drive. I think I speak for all BMW fans when I say let that thing die with dignity. The crusher is where that belongs after being harvested for parts.

    I voted Fiero.

  3. That Fiero is a bucket list car. Whoever rescues it gets the best Pontiac, an awesome tale of redemption, and all the bragging rights when they pull out the “how I found it” pics…

  4. A new bar has been set. I can’t muster a vote for either of these. If a friend owned either of these and needed help I would offer to pay a tow truck to haul them off. Keep in mind, I try to be optimistic.

  5. I have driven a 318i cabriolet like that in excellent condition, and even then it’s a great convertible cruiser at the most – not really a drivers’ car. Not enough horsepower for the weight and the lost structural rigidity loses the dinamic appeal.

    A best-version Fiero though, and one ready for auto-x work almost as is? color me excited 🙂

  6. Forget the AC, and don’t worry about the dash. Pluck out the tach, relocate to a hood nacelle a la late 60s Firebird, GTO, Grand Prix, remind yourself why Pontiac Builds Excitement. ( or just say “OK Boomer.”)

  7. The Fiero, definitely. It looks like it was in good shape before some stupid happened to it, and the stupid looks reversible.
    New cat/exhaust will be some moolah, though.

  8. I only have limited mechanical knowledge, but my gut tells me that if the Fiero is running, that it’d be more easily returned to prime time.

    Is there a colloquialism or other common term for vehicles with clean/immaculate interiors (and maybe even a clean, presentable exterior) but mechanical problems? I suffered that with my old ’97 Econoline, and it looks like that BMW is in the same boat. I would not expect that exterior if you led with the interior pic.

  9. I can’t see paying money for either of these except as parts cars. Didn’t shitbox used to denote trashed but at least running? Is the term crackbox a thing?

    1. Good point. Replacing the cat on the Fiero won’t be cheap, but other than that you’re paying GM prices for parts and aftermarket. Sometimes you can bet aftermarket BMW stuff for a reasonable price, but sometimes you end up paying full BMW price for a $2,000 car.

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